False Faces

by Ursula


Title: False Faces

Author/Pseudonym: Ursula

Fandom: X-Files and the Commish

Pairing: Mulder/Ricky Caruso

Rating: NC-17

Status: Finished Stand Alone

Date Posted: 01/20/04

Archive: FHSA, DIB, WWOMB, FONXL, Gossamer, RAT B,

E-mail address for feedback: Fan4Richie or Ursula4X@aol.com

Classification: Slash Case file, angst, relationship,

Series/Sequel: Is this story part of a series: Standalone

Web Site: http://www.fhsarchive.com/ursula/ Main FHSA Site: http://www.fhsarchive.com/ Mirror Site: fhsarchive.popullus.org/

Disclaimers: X-Files is the intellectual property of Chris Carter, 1013, Fox, and whoever has current rights. The Commish was produced by David Levinson and Stephen J. Cannell.

Notes: A present for Nikita. Thanks to "Flintstriker" for a long, difficult beta.

Warnings: Slash

Time Frame: Before the X Files and during the second season for Commish

When he closed his eyes, dead children crowded his vision. Pleading hands, weeping eyes, frightened faces clamoring for his attention. Even then, he might have slept, but Samantha would come, her pigtails drenched in her blood, and every horror that had been inflicted on the victim of the last case he profiled inflicted on her small form. That woke Mulder. That made him scream.

Sitting awake, Mulder stared into the darkness for long moments before walking across the floor. He could feel the cold floor beneath the cheap carpet and hear the spasmodic gasps of the ancient oil heater.

Grimacing, Mulder walked to the bathroom and hopefully turned on the shower. A series of clanks and groans said the building's ancient water heater was making an effort, but the water remained lukewarm. Shivering, Mulder washed anyway, his mind traveling ahead to the comfort of the heated pool at the FBI building.

One of these days Mulder really had to go apartment hunting. This place was nearly unlivable.

Deciding that he would wait until after he swam to eat, Mulder jogged the few blocks to the Hoover.

Bob Shaw, the early morning guard, greeted him cheerfully. "Couldn't sleep, Agent Mulder?"

"No," Mulder said.

"Sometimes I think the man who shot me in the hip and got me off the police force did me a big favor. I may work swing shift, but when I go home to sleep, I sleep," the man said.

There was nothing to be said to that.

Shaw called out, "Have a nice swim, Agent Mulder."

"Thanks, I will," Mulder said.

OooOooO

By seven thirty, Mulder was at his desk. He had almost finished the report on his last case and his stomach had churned enough acid over it to make him wish he had skipped the coffee he purloined from the secretarial pool.

As dry and concise as the report was, it still awakened the sights and smells of the charnel house that Mulder had entered after his profile led to the serial killer. The last victim had been found alive. He tried to feel better about that, but the poor kid was going to be in counseling the rest of his life.

Finished, Mulder typed his resignation letter for the fifth time in the last month. He had endured this work long enough. If Patterson wasn't such a demeaning bastard, maybe he would be more motivated to stay, but his immediate supervisor was a glory hugging, nit picking asshole, who lived to make Mulder squirm.

After Mulder placed the report and the letter in Patterson's box, he turned and almost ran into his boss. Patterson grunted and pulled the thick stack of reports and departmental memos out of his box.

"Was that the Byrne report?" Patterson asked.

"Yeah," Mulder said, tensing as his boss thumbed through the materials. He could tell when Patterson found the letter of resignation.

"You serious about this?" Patterson said.

"Yes, I am," Mulder said. "The bureau is considering my proposal to open the unsolved cases in the basement."

"Considering it, but they want my opinion," Patterson said.

"And that will be?" Mulder asked.

"I have an old friend, Tony Scali," Patterson said. "He's the police commissioner in East Bridge, New York. They've had some problems up there, it appears that there's some type of hysterical illness going though the adolescent population. Scali believes that there's a physical cause to the problems."

"You want me to investigate teenage nonsense because your buddy wants me to?" Mulder asked.

"Yes, I do. Tony Scali is a very good friend," Patterson said. "Do it and I support your project."

"That's blackmail," Mulder said.

"That's playing hardball," Patterson said. "You want to play with the big boys?"

"I'll do it, but that's it," Mulder said. "No more after that."

"We'll part ways gladly," Bill said, "I prefer team players."

OooOooO

Dressed in his newest and best uniform, Ricky stared at his brightly polished shoes. Tony Scali was humming opera tunes again. Ricky repressed a groan. Just like his father. Just like his uncles. Maybe that was what was wrong with him. If he hummed opera, maybe it would come together for him as a cop.

"Ricky, it's been an up and down year for you," Scali said, his jovial round face concerned.

"Yeah, I know, boss," Ricky said, "but if you look at the last six months, I've been working hard, no mistakes, no trouble. Every minute I've had free, I've been studying for the detective exam."

"You swore off chasing girls?" the Commish said.

"Yeah," Ricky said. He hoped that Scali wouldn't ask him anymore about that. Lately, Ricky had been noticing things about himself that he wasn't prepared to deal with. He had been reading about what it might mean when a guy had to keep proving himself with a lot of women, but dreamed about making love to a guy.

Man, if Ricky's family even suspected that he might be gay, he was in deep shit.

They wouldn't reject him, but the relentless weight of their loving and caring would wear him down. Ricky hoped that his feelings were a passing thing. If he just didn't act on them, maybe they would go away. He'd tried screwing them away until his girl friends called him a sex maniac and started evading his calls. It didn't matter anyway since it hadn't worked.

So Ricky was trying to get his act together and memorize all those rules and guidelines to pass the test to make detective.

Scali caught him studying the regulations over a vending machine sandwich and a Coke.

"So what rule did you break now, Ricky?" Scali asked.

"Ha, ha, I'm studying for the detective exam," Ricky admitted.

"You joking?" Scali asked, his face switching to concerned mode.

"No, I'm serious. I'm going to take the test next year," Ricky said.

"Isn't that a little premature?" Scali asked.

"No, I'll have the minimum time in by then," Ricky said. "What's the matter, boss? You don't think I can do it?"

"Ricky, you're very young and you don't have a lot of experience. I thought you were happy as a uniformed police officer," Scali said.

"I told you when I started that I wanted to make detective. I know I haven't acted like it all the time, but I don't want to stay in the ranks. I want to have my own cases. I want to be a homicide detective," Ricky said.

"I'm pleased to hear that," Scali said. "Let me know what I can do to help."

Seeing Scali turn to go, Ricky said, "Boss, there is something you can do to help. I need a chance to show that I've changed, boss. Put me on some cases where I can show I can do more than give traffic tickets."

"Let me think about it," Scali said. "I'll see if there is anything that could use a uniformed officer. Chin up, Ricky. I'm proud of you."

Wow, that was not something Ricky expected to hear.

OooOooO

Ricky didn't really expect the Commish to find him something so when Scali beckoned him into his office, Ricky was more concerned about what he possibly could have screwed up. Hell, he had been so by the book even Stan was looking at him funny.

The Commish looked up and said, "Ricky, I didn't forget. There is something I can assign you to. You know the kids who turned up with some bizarre disease after being missing over night?"

"Yeah, the ones that said a ghost did it to them. A lot of the guys think they are all lying," Ricky said, "but I don't know. Why would they all lie about it?"

"That's what I said. The victims range from kids whose parents wouldn't care if they never came home to kids from the best families in town," Scali said. "I've asked for help from the FBI, from a guy I was once partners with. He's sending one of his best men, Agent Mulder. The guy's not much of a team player, but he'll need someone local to guide him around. You want to do this, Ricky?"

"Yeah, work with an FBI agent? That's like a dream come true."

OooOooO

Patterson's Commissioner Scali faxed a hefty file to Mulder. Hefty, but not informative. Scali had deployed a lot of man power on the investigation, but none of the detectives or uniformed cops did anything but collect facts and interview victims. There were meager background reports, but they read like entries from a high school yearbook. Kids could be a lot more complex that these reports suggested.

Mulder leaned back, enjoying the isolation of his first class seat on this red eye flight. He thumbed through the reports again.

Commissioner Scali was a character. Patterson remarked that Mulder might like Tony Scali. Scali ran his town his way and was known to buck city hall if he had a different opinion. Patterson had said, "If you're wondering what Scali and I had in common... not much. I liked him. Almost everyone liked Tony Scali."

Mulder didn't expect to like Scali. He didn't like being sent to Scali like a whore being pimped to a crime boss. That didn't mean he wouldn't work the case. That was a given, but he'd give Scali grief if it was nothing more than some sort of teenage hysteria. And Mulder suspected that was all that this case evidenced.

OooOooO

Mulder met with Scali in his conference room, a cramped room with a scarred oak table, battered chairs, and a picture of a dramatically sinking ship. A woman with red hair and a crisp suit sat at one end of the table next to Scali, who proved to be a short, chubby guy. Scali looked as if he should be selling sandwiches not running a police force.

The woman with red hair introduced herself as Syd Madison. Mulder knew the name. She had been with the FBI until she ran up against the powers that be. Her own sting had trapped her although she was not fired outright. From what Mulder had heard Ms. Madison had been trapped in that never never land where agents know their head is on the block and they will be posted to the dustiest Podunk office for the rest of their career. Madison had quit and gone back to local law enforcement. Now she watched him with cagey eyes, perhaps sensing another FBI rebel.

The kid in blues was worth watching. He was pretty with long eyelashes, long legs, and the most perfect baby mouth that Mulder had ever seen on a man. His hair looked silken, parted neatly and combed to one side. His nose was tiny, a mite of a nose. His cheekbones were sharp and framed the dramatic eyes beautifully.

Scali waved toward the woman and said, "Syd's my chief detective. She'll be your liaison with my department, but I'm giving you Officer Caruso full time. He'll be your driver, your leg man, whatever you want him to do."

Now that was an offer. Mulder smiled at the kid and said, "I hope you keep late hours. I find it hard to stop when I'm on a case."

"No problem," Caruso said. "I can go without sleep. I'm young and eager."

Hiding a smirk, Mulder said, "I bet you are. Well, let's have a look at the kids."

The six teenagers had all been released except one. He had no home to which to return. He had been living with a foster family, but they had been unwilling to let him return after his illness.

Ricky led Mulder out to his car, a low-slung corvette. Mulder said, "That's not police issue."

"Yeah, I saved up for a long time to buy that baby. Lived with my cousin until I paid it off and babysat his kids for him. Seven kids. Catholic," Ricky said with a kind of quiet horror.

Mulder laughed and said, "Well, let's see if your suffering was worth the prize. Drive!"

The young cop grinned. Ricky wasn't as pretty when he smiled, but Mulder didn't mind. He liked the strong white teeth, the traces of laugh wrinkles at the young man's eyes.

OooOooO

Ricky had heard the guys grumbling about FBI agents and he knew that Syd Madison talked about her former employment with a sort of frustrated loathing. Even the Commish unbent enough at the Christmas party to gripe about the FBI consultants as being stuffed shirts with an over inflated sense of self esteem.

Not knowing what to expect, Ricky figured that it couldn't be much worse than Tony on a bad day. He'd survived Scali's lectures, he could survive a learning experience with an FBI profiler.

"I sure would hate to be this kid," Ricky said as they pulled into the hospital parking lot. "Talk about a tough deal in life. Kid gets stuck with deadbeat, druggy parents, gets shuffled around in foster care, somehow he still turns out okay enough to be a high school jock and then he ends up like this..."

Ricky still couldn't look at Mick for long. It made his face hurt to see the frozen grimace stuck on the kid's face.

"Yo, Mick, how's it hanging?" Ricky sang out.

"They're talking about shooting me up with something. Some kind of poison. I think they're trying to kill me," Mike said.

Funny, Ricky had talked to the kid several times after the boss put him on the case. At first, he couldn't understand the kid at all, but now he could translate the oddly distorted voice without a thought.

"It's probably botulism injections," Mulder remarked. He'd recently read an article on the use of botulism injections in controlling muscle spasms, temporarily minimizing wrinkles, and even stopping excessive sweating.

"You mean like that food poisoning stuff? Geez, these doctors must be nuts!" Ricky exclaimed.

"They only inject small doses that are supposedly safe for most people," Mulder said.

"Would it fix me?" Mick asked, struggling to work his grimacing mouth.

"Maybe not permanently," Mulder said.

Ricky was still grossed out by what had happened to this boy, but he managed to pat Mick's shoulder and said, "Don't worry about it. They are going to fix you up."

"You think so?" Mick asked.

"Sure, no problem," Ricky lied. "and my boss got the FBI to send Agent Mulder to find out what happened to you kids," Ricky said, looking toward Mulder.

Mulder nodded a greeting and picked up the kid's chart and started to read it. He put on glasses and sat on the only visitor's chair, rapidly paging through the scrawled notes.

"Hey, Ricky, you know my social worker?" Mick asked.

"Yes, I met her here the other day," Ricky said.

"I saw she gave you her number. Maybe she would return your call. I want get out of here. All of the other kids went home. I know the Jacksons don't want me back, but there has to be another foster home or something. This hospital is driving me nuts. I want to go back to school," Mick said.

"I'll try to see what's up," Ricky said. Audrey Moore had given him her card, but her home phone was written across the back. Ricky didn't think the pretty young woman had business in mind when she suggested that he call her.

"Meanwhile, you want some candy or something? Comic book?" Ricky asked.

"They have comic books here?" Mick asked.

"Place across the street has comic books, candy, stuff like that," Ricky said. "Could be there and back in a minute."

"Yeah, cool. I'm pretty bored," Mick said.

"Be right back, Mulder," Ricky said.

A hand wave dismissed him coolly.

Oh, well, the FBI agent didn't have to like him to teach him, Ricky thought. He was glad to get out of the room. Poor kid...

Imagine having to go through life like that!

OooOooO

The teenager's face was frozen in a silent scream. His lips were twisted in a rictus. One eye stared straight ahead while the other was fixed to the left. The facial muscles had pulled tight on one side further completing the ruin of the handsome young face.

Mick could speak and apparently was able to force his twisted facial muscles to eat and drink. His words emerged distorted by the almost immobile mouth.

Finished with the medical records, Mulder gazed at the young man and asked, "Mick, it seems as if there is a lot that you and your friends are not telling the police. According to the reports I read, you all said that Tom Hendrick's car ran out of gas and you decided to walk across the woods to get to a gas station you knew was there."

"Yeah, what of it?" Mick said.

"I've looked at the maps and there's a station a few miles down the highway . . . a well lit highway where you might have been able to hitch a ride to fill your gas can," Mulder pointed out.

The teenager's eyes flashed and he said, "Well, maybe we didn't know about that one."

Mulder grinned and flipped a copy of a receipt. "Tom Hendricks bought gas there a few days before you kids disappeared. I don't think he would forget that quickly."

"It was a full moon. We were telling horror stories," Mick said. "Maybe he forgot."

"He was so scared that he decided to walk into a wood that locals say is haunted by Iroquois ghosts?" Mulder questioned, raising his brow in self-conscious imitation of Mr. Spock.

"Yeah," Mick said. "What's it to you?"

"I might be able to help you, Mick, but you have to help me find out what happened." Mulder said.

"I don't know. I don't remember," Mick said. "Let me think about it."

The boy was unwilling to answer any questions after that. He turned the TV to MTV and frowned at the screen, refusing to glance Mulder's way. They remained locked in a battle of wills until Ricky returned.

Green eyes smoky above the baby doll mouth, Ricky was sucking on a bilious green sucker. "Sorry to take so long, the clerk kept miscounting my change."

Unloading a bag onto Mick's bed, Ricky produced an assortment of candy bars, bags of strangely named substances like Runts and Worms, and a variety of comic books, not a comic Mulder knew in the lot.

Popping a particularly vile specimen of candy in his mouth, Ricky sprawled into a chair with one of the comic books. "I'll take home what you don't like."

Mick reached for all of the garish treasures and said, "That's more like it."

Not fitting into this scene and feeling old and odd, Mulder leaned on the wall and stared at the parking lot below.

Time passed. Ricky continued to read his comic as Mick ate candy and did the same.

Just about the time Mulder was ready to scream, Ricky yawned and remarked, "When I was a kid, they said that there was an old Indian ceremonial place in those woods. They say it was haunted. I never believed it, but I never went there anyway. Why take chances?"

"I wish I had been that smart," Mick said. "I wanted to fit in. I get good grades; I'm good at sports. Girls like me. It wasn't my fault that my parents drink too much and never took care of us kids. I knew that if I said I was afraid to go that it would make the other kids start to ice me out again. Now look at me. I look like a monster and I got dumped here like a piece of junk that no one wants. They're never going to find me a new foster home."

"Oh, yeah, I was going to tell you," Ricky remarked. "I was talking to my Uncle Enrique and my Aunt Brenda. They're running low on kids and, when I told them about you, they started the process to get a foster care license. There's a social worker trying to rush the license through so you can get out of here."

"You joking?" Mick asked.

"Nah, My uncle and aunt were just complaining that they have a great big house and only one kid left. My Uncle Enrique is a cop and my Aunt Brenda is a substitute teacher, but they were my favorite relatives when I was growing up. You'll like them," Ricky said.

"They know what happened to me? What I look like?" Mick asked fearfully.

"Yeah, doesn't bother them," Ricky said. "All they ever cared about was that you tried your best in school and that you treat the rest of the family with respect. I lived with them for a while when my Mom was sick."

"You better not be bullshitting me," Mick said.

"I wouldn't bullshit a guy about something that important," Ricky said.

"I get it. I got to tell you what happened and then I get to see if your uncle and aunt will let me live with them," Mick said.

"No, I already asked them," Ricky said. "They're going to meet you later today."

Mick turned away, blinking. His painfully twisted features were further distorted with emotion.

"It was supposed to be fun," Mick said. "We had a keg. We were just going to have a few drinks. Everybody does it once in a while."

"I know," Ricky said.

Mulder felt the urge to step in, to ask some questions to get the information flowing, but he knew that his impatience would have been a mistake. Ricky was a rookie cop, but the kid was talking to him. Mulder quashed his natural concern that Ricky would screw it up.

Ricky glanced his way, seeming to guess what Mulder was thinking. Mulder managed a brief smile and a nod, letting the kid take it.

"So you went to the woods, despite the reputation for being haunted?" Ricky said.

"No, we went there on purpose," Mick admitted. He struggled to swallow. "It was Dave Bascomb's bright idea. He was always an asshole. Billy Newton freaked out when someone joked about having the kegger out at Seneca clearing. So, natch, Dave gets on to the idea and won't get off it. I don't know why the rest of us went along with it. Dave seems to know how to push our buttons. So we went. I remember it was going okay. Eileen, she used to be kinda like my girlfriend, was cuddling up with me. I remembered thinking that she was going to let me go all the way."

Shaking his head, Mick gazed into Mulder's eyes as if he might have the answers. "I don't think I was drunk, but I passed out anyway. We all did."

Horror in his crooked eyes, Mick said, "When we woke up, it was morning and we were all like this. We kept thinking it must be some kind of joke, but we couldn't make our faces stop doing that. The girls just kept crying. They didn't even want to go back. We must have sat out there for hours before we finally drove home. Then they took us to the doctor, but they couldn't fix us. And I got kicked out of the Jackson's foster home..."

"That's it? That's all that you can remember?" Mulder asked.

"Yeah, but it was Seneca Clearing and Dave was digging a pit for a fire," Mick said. "I bet if you looked you could find the pit. But be careful. I wouldn't wish what happened to me on anyone."

"Don't worry. Mr. Mulder is a famous FBI agent. He knows all about strange events. Maybe we'll find something to help you," Ricky said.

Mulder nodded although he had never had a case like this before.

OooOooO

Mulder had changed into jeans and a sweater to go into the woods. Ricky tried not to look as the man squatted to examine the fire pit. He stared into the woods, trying not to examine the rush of arousal that went through him as the denim stretched tightly across Mulder's firm ass. It was wrong, not the way Ricky was supposed to feel.

His family would not quite ban him. There was his cousin, Raphael, after all. Ricky's father was the main proponent of the idea that Cousin Rafe's name had doomed him to be light in the loafers. Ricky wondered what Dad would blame his little aberration on if the family found out. Probably, Mama. Dad loved Mama, but it was a shock to him when she almost died giving birth to Ricky's sister, Felicia. Mama was ill for two years afterwards; it was the same illness that resulted in Ricky's stay with his uncle and aunt. Papa loved Mama, but he always spoke with admiration about Grandma Caruso who had given birth to thirteen children and gone back to work in the family fruit stand the next day after each one.

Turning away, Ricky turned his flashlight aimlessly at various trees. Suddenly a twisted face grimaced out of the gnarled oak. Ricky blinked then stepped close to see what it was.

The carving went deep. It must have been very old, incised when this tree was half of its present size. Part of the carving was obscured by bark, but most of it was plain, a wooden depiction of the face inflicted on poor Mick.

"That's a broken nose mask," Mulder's voice said from very near Ricky.

Startled, Ricky jumped, inadvertently colliding with Mulder, fitting his ass to Mulder's groin.

Instead of moving away, Mulder reached around Ricky to examine the mask. "The broken nose mask represents a spirit that entered a contest with a greater spirit, perhaps God himself. For its insolence, it was smashed and broken against the mountain, but despite that, the spirit was allowed to become a powerful healer. It's one of the most helpful of the False Face masks. This mask carved into the living wood of the tree should have been separated lovingly from the parent tree to be used by a young apprentice in the false face society. Something must have interrupted the maker."

The intense look on Mulder's face made him beautiful. The fire of it went straight down Ricky's spine. Ricky's fingers twitched with the need to touch Mulder, sure that he would be burned, but driven to do it never the less. It took the self-discipline Commissioner Scalli said Ricky did not have to keep his hands to himself and move away to stand next to the tree, facing Mulder.

"The way I heard it, some of the East Bridge pioneers learned that a False Face ceremony was going to take place. They were determined to wipe out the heathen practice and got one of the Iroquois drunk enough to tell them where the ceremony was to take place. They set upon the Iroquois, but most of them escaped. The man who was being initiated was too entranced to run. The settlers beat him to death where he stood," Ricky said. "The woods remained haunted after that. That's why no one ever settled here."

At Mulder's look, Ricky grinned sheepishly. He said, "I used to shovel snow for the old lady who ran the local historical society. She always insisted on stuffing me with hot chocolate and cookies along with a bunch of local history. Most of it went in one ear and out the other, but that one was gory enough to stick."

"There are theories that events of that much emotional intensity record themselves on the surroundings. Some people believe that's what ghost are," Mulder remarked.

"Yeah? Well, something more than a recording screwed with those kids," Ricky replied. He scowled at the tree. "I can understand that Indian being pissed at being killed like that, but why take it out on kids?"

"Those kids were drinking in what may be a sacred place," Mulder said. "Mick may have been innocent, but at least one of those kids wanted to have the party here because it was reputed to be haunted. They paid the price."

"Too big a price," Ricky said. "There must be a way to let what ever did this understand that the kids meant no harm."

As Ricky spoke, lightening struck so near that he again jumped, again right into Mulder. Mulder caught him and steadied him. Mulder's hands and warmth felt good to him. He might have been content to lean into him, but the storm increased in intensity.

A downpour followed, gouts of water that seemed aimed directly at their heads. Lightening made a crazy quilt of the landscape. Although Mulder headed in the direction of the car, the path seemed overgrown with thorns and a tangle of vines. They were driven back into the clearing several times until suddenly Ricky spotted a path. The trail meandered and didn't take them back to where they had parked. The path closed behind them, driving them forward. They stumbled about lost and miserable until they came upon a small cabin. They pushed open the door, not giving a shit about who owned the place. It was cold and musty inside, but at least it was dry.

Ricky aimed his flashlight around, revealing a stack of dry wood by the fireplace. "All right. Let's see if I could still earn my merit badge. I could start a fire faster than anyone in my troop."

Mulder laughed at that. "A real boy scout."

"Wasn't everyone?" Ricky asked, bringing out waterproof matches.

"Not in my part of the world," Mulder replied, trying to imagine his secretive father and socialite mother hosting a troop of rambunctious boy scouts. "Bet you looked cute in those short pants."

"Maybe," Ricky said, glad the darkness hid his blush.

The tinder lit and Ricky quickly fed more bits of dry wood to the small flame. He grinned when the logs caught and the cabin filled with the sound of crackling wood.

"We should get these wet things off," Mulder said. Not waiting for agreement, he stripped out of his sweater and jeans, casting about for a place to hang them up. He spotted pegs by the fireplace and walked over to suspend his dripping garments from a couple of them.

"Come on, Ricky, don't be shy," Mulder said. "You're going to catch something standing around soaked like that."

Walking toward Ricky, Mulder seemed about ready to help Ricky out of his sopping clothing. Ricky fought back a shudder of pleasure at that thought. He rapidly undressed and walked over to put his clothing next to Mulder's. Mulder's eyes swept over him, his gaze feeling like a heated touch.

Mulder darted across the room and captured something, a large blanket. He shook it out and said, "Well, just the one, but it's a big one. Come here. We can share."

Every instinct left over from the Ricky, who had guarded his masculinity as if it could get away from him, screamed that getting under that blanket with Mulder was a bad idea. You wouldn't have known that from the speed with which Ricky joined the man.

Mulder was warm, warmer than he should have been, but somehow it seemed right.

Putting an arm around Ricky and pulling him close, Mulder said, "You feel like you're made of ice. C'mere. Let me take care of you."

Shivering, Ricky felt very strange, passive, waiting. He couldn't move, couldn't express what he hoped would happen.

There was a thick rug in front of the fire. Mulder scooted out of the blanket and said, "Just a minute."

Grunting with effort, Mulder shook out the rug and then tugged Ricky down, blanket and all. They sat very close together, but Mulder moved closer yet.

His throat frozen in embarrassment, Ricky sat stiffly, not quite able to move away from Mulder, but not willing to relax against him. Mulder rubbed Ricky's arms and said, "You were really cold. How's that?"

"Feels better," Ricky said, his eyes half closing. He turned his head a little to the side, his chin down. He could feel Mulder's eyes on him. Girls went crazy when he did that. They loved his eyelashes and his cheekbones.

Mulder's hand stilled, but Ricky could feel the way the man was looking at him. One of Mulder's fingers trailed across Ricky's skin, just a light touch, but Ricky felt his cock leap in response.

"Mulder, are you coming onto me?" Ricky asked.

"What do you think?" Mulder said.

"I think you are," Ricky said. He drew a shuddering breath, thinking of all the nasty things guys said a queer would do to you. He didn't want to be like the trannies and the pansies that the guys made fun of.

But to feel like this. To want like this. Imagine being this hungry for something and never to be satisfied.

"I...I've never done anything with a guy," Ricky admitted.

"But you're curious about it, aren't you?" Mulder said.

"I don't want to be gay," Ricky said.

"But you want me," Mulder said softly. "So what's it going to be?"

"If I don't like something," Ricky said, "You'll stop? You won't get pissed off?"

"Whatever you want," Mulder said, his hands moving again, stroking lightly.

Ricky slid down, lying on the rug, looking up at Mulder, leaning over him. It took all of his courage to offer himself like this. He held back sharp words, the impulse to leap up and call Mulder a name for believing that Ricky wanted him.

OooOooO

The kid was scared to death. Mulder had a cautionary thought; he had heard of virgins who let you have them and then screamed rape. Ricky's big green eyes, framed by a sea of black lashes, gazed up at him. He looked as if he was fighting to keep himself from running away.

"You don't have to do this," Mulder said.

"I want you," Ricky said. "Yeah, if I had a choice, I wouldn't feel this way. But if I don't see if this is what I want, I'm always going to wonder."

Ricky's eyes fluttered. Mulder had a taste for beautiful men and Ricky was pretty as a girl, but definitely was a male.

"I'd like to kiss you," Mulder said.

"Okay, the girls say I'm good at kissing," Ricky answered.

"I bet you are," Mulder replied softly, trying to keep the humor out of his voice.

First kisses always have a note of awkwardness. This was no different. They weren't quite sure who was going to take charge of the kiss. Then Ricky relaxed, opened his lips to Mulder's tongue. His sigh shivered against Mulder's lips.

Mulder brushed the sides of Ricky's plump lips, felt the roughness of five o'clock shadow. His hands explored gently, approaching this seduction as a challenge to his intuition.

His voice ragged and rough, husky, Ricky said, "You going to touch me or just tease me?"

"Yeah, I want to touch you," Mulder said, following suit. He held Ricky's cock in his hand. "Nice."

"Yeah?" Ricky said, craning down to look at himself.

"You have a beautiful cock," Mulder said.

"No one ever said that before," Ricky said, a chuckle machine-gunning from his chest.

"Then you haven't been with the right person," Mulder said. He took Ricky's lips again, but Ricky surprised him by twisting so Mulder had little choice but to allow his lover to switch positions with him.

Ricky's kiss was intoxicating, but his touch was tentative. Ricky said, "You're big. I don't know if I would like that inside me."

"One thing at a time," Mulder said. "You don't have to do that. Not everyone does."

"Really? Huh," Ricky said. "Kinda weird. Like not going all the way. What does it feel like?"

Mulder found a small tube of Vaseline in his jacket and anointed his finger. He stroked between Ricky's cheeks. Slowly, he pushed in as his mouth slid over Ricky's cock. The boy was very responsive, eager, thrusting forward into Mulder's lips before muttering 'sorry'.

Teasing the outer ring, Mulder waited until Ricky relaxed before letting his finger explore. Ricky's ass was hairless and silken, with plump cheeks that begged to be gripped as Mulder thrust between them. As exciting as the idea of seducing Ricky was, Mulder wished that Ricky were more experienced, more open to being fucked.

Mulder managed to get another finger into Ricky without breaking the spell that his mouth and tongue was creating. He wanted to make it so good for Ricky that Ricky would have no energy to even have a regret. From the noise that Ricky was making, that seemed inevitable. Mulder wished he had an extra hand or so. His cock wanted attention badly.

Whimpering and moaning, Ricky bucked upwardly. Mulder rode with him, keeping his rhythm until Ricky's thrust became totally erratic. Ricky's ass clamped around his fingers then relaxed as he went limp in the aftermath of orgasm. Mulder continued to let his fingers ride in and out.

"Okay," Ricky whispered. "Okay, let's try. I never liked the kind of girl who got me going and then wouldn't let me finish."

Mulder said, "It's not quite like that."

"Yeah, well, I want to find out. Come on; do me before I lose my nerve," Ricky said.

Taking his time, Mulder worked Ricky's passage, using the Vaseline to make the heat inside of him slick. He pushed the head of his cock into the opening, waited for Ricky to adjust. Getting a hand in front, he teased Ricky's cock, stirring a reaction from him despite the recent ejaculation. He kissed Ricky's neck when the man arched back against him. Taking his time, he entered very slowly, moving with short, gentle thrusts until Ricky started to move with him.

"You okay?" Mulder asked. "Scared?"

"No," Ricky denied then laughed softly and said, "Okay, a little nervous. Doesn't hurt as much as I thought. I trust you."

"You feel wonderful to me," Mulder said. Ricky did, tight, yet yielding. He was a natural, lifting his leg enough to keep himself open to Mulder. His muscles gave into Mulder easily.

Confident that Ricky was okay, Mulder moved faster and deeper. When he touched Ricky, he wasn't surprised to find him hard again. He stroked in time to his thrusts as Ricky whimpered and moaned.

"Ricky, Ricky," Mulder whispered, wishing he could keep like this, connected, the pleasure taking away the fears, the frustrations of his life.

As he softened, Mulder had to withdraw. Ricky immediately wiggled around to face him.

"I did it," Ricky said exultantly, kissing Mulder enthusiastically.

"You were great," Mulder praised.

"Really?" Ricky said.

"You were wonderful," Mulder said.

Ricky snuggled close as Mulder embraced him. They were on their sides, face to face. Mulder caressed Ricky's back, appreciated the swell of his shoulders, the solid feel of his back, and that lovely, inviting ass.

"I want to do it to you," Ricky said, his hands reaching for Mulder's ass.

"I want that too," Mulder said. "If you're up to it later."

"I will be," Ricky said.

Both of them got up and cleaned themselves and then Mulder pulled Ricky close, giving him his chest as a pillow. Ricky's warm breath felt like a thousand kisses on his bare chest.

How good it felt to have a lover sleep in his arm. Mulder wondered what it would be like to have someone like Ricky in his life. Just maybe, if they really allowed him to open the X-Files . . . if Ricky really entered the academy, perhaps Mulder would have a partner in his life, in all aspects of his life.

Mulder had a quest, but was there any reason to deny himself a life besides it?

Protectively, lovingly, Mulder cradled this beautiful young man and fell asleep, dreaming about a much better future.

OooOooO

The bed was hard, but Mulder was warm and content, his body snuggled to a long, strong male body, his cock half hard against plump soft buttocks. Something smelled good besides last night's sex in the air.

There was a faint scraping sound and Mulder sat up, startled. He blinked at the sight of an ancient Indian, white hair caught in a pair of thin braids, wrapped at the bottom with red yarn. Faded blue jeans clung to narrow hips and a nearly concave ass. A thick sweatshirt hung from shoulders that seemed to belong to a different man.

"Thought you might like some moose stew after all your endeavors," the old man said.

"Ah, shit," Ricky hissed, trying to hide behind Mulder and nearly succeeding despite their similar bulk.

"This is my place," the old man said, "if that isn't obvious. Jake Smoke is what they call me. I already looked at your ID so I know who you are. Your parents some kind of wannabees, Mr. Mulder? I never heard of any white man named Fox."

"What's a wannabee?" Mulder asked.

"Wannabee an Indian now that it's not a hanging offense," Mr. Smoke said.

"No, it's a family name," Mulder replied. "Either that or my parents have a sadistic streak. I realize we intruded on your home, but it didn't look occupied."

"I was off at council. I'm retired from that rat race, but I go once in a while to scare the young men into thinking I might come back," Smoke said. "I lock up most of my things when I'm gone. Young folks drink up here some times."

"Are you an Iroquois?" Mulder asked, hoping that the man could tell them about the mask in the tree.

Plaintively, Ricky asked, "Could I have my clothes?"

The old Indian laughed and walked over to get them from the pegs in the wall. "Should be dry now. Pretty good fire you made. You need to chop me some wood before you leave."

Mulder took his clothing gratefully, but stubbornly repeated his question. "Are you an Iroquois? We ran into something in the woods... a mask carved in a living tree. We think some kids found it earlier and something happened to them."

"Yes, I heard. That's why I came back early," Smoke said. "I'm half Seneca, a little bit Onondaga, some Mohawk, and a scattering of English and French. That mask belongs to my family. The young one who carved it was my great grand uncle. He was going to be a healer before those white men killed him. He was two spirited like you fellows. That's probably why he let you alone with no more than a run through his woods. "

Ricky had shoved his way back into his clothes and regained some of his composure. He asked, "What's two spirited? I'm not into Native American stuff. I'm Catholic, I guess."

"Two spirited isn't a religion, young one," Mr. Smoke said. "It's when your spirit remembers having other bodies. Times when you might have a woman spirit when now you have a man's body. Or maybe you meet up with a spirit you once loved and it doesn't matter to you whether it's wearing a man body same as you."

"Really?" Ricky said. "I was wondering why you weren't freaked out. I mean when you saw us beneath the blanket like that?"

"A lot of you wasn't beneath that blanket," Smoke said, snickering. "But you were warm enough with the fire so hot and all wrapped up in each other."

"Oh, God," Ricky said, looking as if he wanted to hide his head in the sand.

Ignoring the teasing, Mulder said, "If you're a descendent of whatever that is in the woods, can you communicate with it? Make it understand that the children were punished enough?"

"We can try. Maybe he will listen to you. Maybe you should put on a show for him out there . . . " Mr. Smoke said.

"I'm not doing that!" Ricky exclaimed.

"Take it easy, Ricky, he's just teasing you," Mulder said.

Grunting, the old man searched through a battered old suitcase and came out with a red wrapped bundle. He poked through, added a twist of something that Mulder had to think about to recognize as tobacco, and then said, "Well, don't just stand there. Eat up some of that stew and then we'll bring some to my ancestor."

The stew was plain, but good. The gravy was thick with meat and vegetables. There was a faintly gamy taste, but Mulder had eaten game before. Phoebe had been fond of venison. Ricky didn't even seem to notice the taste. He had quite an appetite. He was a healthy man. And very young. Mulder couldn't stop looking at him nor could Ricky seem to go long without smiling at Mulder.

Mulder had always kept his sexual affairs with men short and discreet. He had never seen the same guy more than two or three times except in college when he had been less cautious about his personal life.

Ricky was a temptation. He was beautiful, sexy, and he had potential, not only as a bedmate, but also as someone who might someday be an equal. A partner . . .

As if reading his mind, Ricky asked, "Is it hard to get in the FBI academy? What do you have to do?"

"It helps to have a skill besides law enforcement. Many agents have a degree in law, computer science, or accounting," Mulder said.

"Accounting?" Ricky repeated, laughing with that husky, delightful chuckle again.

"Yeah, remember how they got Capone," Mulder said.

"I can barely balance a checkbook," Ricky said. "I was pretty decent in science though when I was in high school. Maybe I can pick up some more credits. I'm working on my Masters now. Criminal Justice, but I could maybe swing a duel major."

"That's a good idea," Mulder said, searching his mind for someone who still liked him who could put in a word for Ricky.

OooOooO

Getting over his embarrassment was easier than Ricky expected. Mr. Smoke didn't seem to think there was anything unusual.

"I was a tribal cop when I was young," Smoke said, around a mouthful of stew. "Wasn't much of a job back then. Feds came in for almost anything except a family quarrel or a guy on a drunk. I would have liked to be more of a real cop, but in those days, there weren't any Indian cops except on the reservation."

"I guess not. Funny, most of the guys in my family have always been cops or firemen. I never even considered anything else," Ricky said.

"Maybe I'll be a cop the next time I'm born," Smoke said. "Better than being stuck as a spirit for more than a hundred years. All right. Let me get this spirit plate together and we'll walk out and visit my ancestor. You can tell him that he should go easy on those kids."

Ricky winced, having a feeling that this might be one of the Commish's elaborate practical jokes. He could just see Mulder and himself talking to the mask in the tree and hearing the Commish's laughter as the chubby gnome of a cop jumped out of hiding.

Mulder seemed to take the suggestion in stride though. He eagerly carried the bowl of stew for Mr. Smoke.

As they walked through the woods, Mr. Smoke stopped joking. Reaching the mask in the tree, the old man knelt and unfolded his bundle. His voice grew stronger as he muttered prayers.

Taking a moment, Mr. Smoke said, "Put the stew down by the roots for my ancestor."

Squatting, Mulder obeyed, his eyes wide with wonder. Ricky wished that he could believe that this was going to help. It all seemed like mumbo jumbo to him. He thought that Mr. Smoke was putting them on. Maybe he was the one who did that to the kids with some kind of Indian medicine!

Pulling on Mulder's sleeve, Ricky got him to move aside with him. Whispering, Ricky said, "I think Mr. Smoke is playing with us. He might even know what happened to those kids."

"Shh," Mulder said, tapping Ricky's lips with a finger. "Just keep quiet and observe without preset ideas. Okay?"

Ricky nodded and tried to clear his head.

Mr. Smoke continued to pray. Ricky's thoughts moved from fascination to boredom quickly. It wasn't that different to him than the prayers in his family church, all that Latin mumble jumble . . . not that he understood most of it even when they changed to English.

His mind wandered to the young Indian who died here long ago, if the legend was right, and Mr. Smoke was not just making a joke at their expense. Ricky thought he made a stupid choice. Why die for your religion? If it had been Ricky, he would have run with everyone else.

Staring at the mask, Ricky's mind fogged out. Suddenly the twisted mask became the face of a living man, a handsome young man. The ebony eyes looked into Ricky's soul and Ricky heard a voice with a strange accent ask, "So beautiful stranger, you think no compromise is too great a price?"

That was one of those confusing questions. Ricky didn't think of himself as being a bad person, but, yeah, he was an opportunist and he had made some mistakes along the way of life already. It pissed him off to have some dead Indian questioning him, guilt tripping him.

With a snarl, Ricky said, "I care about people! I care about people I love, my friends, my family, my lovers."

"You will see how far they can take you," the ghost said. "We will see if the false face can be the sum of you."

Ricky didn't know what the hell the ghost meant by that. He was angry enough not to care about looking like a fool by talking to the tree. He said, "What part of your religion made you torture those kids? They didn't intend any harm. The old man said you were going to be a healer. So why don't you make your life worth something and heal those kids?"

Some force struck at Ricky, hitting him over and over again. He heard himself yelling with pain. He could not fight back, could not protect himself and then Mulder was holding him, taking the assault with his own body.

And it stopped. Like a light switching off.

The storm had been real as had been the blows. The ground was littered with branches and fallen leaves. Ricky was bleeding from a blow on his head and Mulder had a red mark and a lip that was already swelling.

Old Man Smoke was untouched. He looked weary though. He crouched to pick up his bundle and said, "My relation ain't happy, but he'll let those kids go of his spell if they come out here and make their respects. He wants them to fast for a day and spend the night hearing our stories. If they have a good heart after that, he'll make their faces right again."

Grunting, the old Iroquois rose and said, "Come on. I'll show you where your car is. I saw it last night when I was coming in."

OooOooO

"We're going to have a hell of a time persuading those kid's families to let them spend another night in the woods," Ricky said.

"Couldn't get much worse for them," Mulder replied. "Let me handle it. I'm used to getting people to believe three impossible things before breakfast."

Ricky's blank stare indicated that his family had sadly neglected his exposure to children's classics. Mulder said, "Don't worry about it. We can do this."

Mick's social worker quickly agreed. She deemed it a cultural experience for Mick, who had some Native blood a generation back. Ricky's aunt and uncle were a harder sell. Ricky's uncle was an older, darker, coarser version of Mulder's pretty boy. Both of them already seemed protective of Mick, but Ricky assured them he would not let the boy out of his sight.

Most of the other parents were reluctant, but the thought of having the kids go through life with twisted caricatures of faces motivated them to agree.

That is until they went to talk to Dave Bascomb's parents. Mulder recognized the type. They would have fit into the parties his parents used to give before Samantha was taken. Helen Bascomb had that slightly frozen faced prettiness that betrayed plastic surgery. Roger Bascomb was oddly baby-faced, his pink skin, receding hairline giving him the look of a middle aged kewpie doll.

Both were very well dressed and spoke with the accents of Ivy League colleges. They sat in matching armchairs like royalty giving audience. Glancing over, Mulder saw that Ricky was both uncomfortable and angry at their attitudes.

His voice hitting a dangerous note that Mulder had not as yet heard, Ricky snarled, "Look, you can talk all the plastic surgery you want, but they aren't going to carve your kid's face back the way it was." His eyes flickering briefly to Helen Bascomb's face, Ricky said, "You can always tell when someone has had plastic surgery. You want your kid going around looking like a melted Barbie doll? What's he going to look like when he's forty? Think about it."

"Officer, you can go to hell," Roger Bascomb said, standing up. "You both know where the door is."

Yes, Mulder did remember where the door was. He had been shown the door before for having diplomatic skills no better than Ricky's.

Bad puppy dog expression in his pretty moss-colored eyes, Ricky muttered, "Sorry, Mulder," as they reached the outside. "I should have kept my trap shut."

"It's all right, Ricky, I don't think they were going to listen anyway. We'll give them half a day to think about it before we tell Mr. Smoke that we are ready for the ceremony," Mulder said.

"Yeah, well, what's next? Should I report back into precinct?" Ricky asked.

"No," Mulder replied. "Commissioner Scali did give you to me. Let's go back to your place and see about that business we talked about at the cabin."

"Yeah," Ricky breathed, looking suddenly pink. "Oh, yeah."

OooOooO

Ricky's apartment embarrassed him. When he had finally paid off his car and could afford a place of his own, he had stumbled upon one of those rent a room of furniture places that was selling returned sets. The fake black leather and chrome had seemed very sophisticated to him at the time, but he saw Mulder's glint of amusement when he entered and knew it was wrong. Ricky said, "The stuff was on sale and I couldn't afford much."

"I like it," Mulder said. "Besides, who would look at anything but you, Ricky?"

Mulder was very cool.

"You want a drink?" Ricky asked.

"No, I want you," Mulder said, reaching for the brown leather jacket that Ricky was wearing. "Where's the bedroom?"

"Over there," Ricky said.

Tugging Ricky along by the lapels of his jacket, Mulder led Ricky into his bedroom. Ricky was glad he had been tidy the last time he had been here. It seemed as if it was days ago rather than the night before last.

Ricky enjoyed the tangle of clothing that resulted from Mulder undressing him at the same time that he was seeking the speed record for getting the clothing off his lover.

Damn, Mulder was hung. He had the kind of cock at which even straight guys had to sneak a peek in the john. Ricky couldn't believe that he had that thing inside of him. Wow!

Face to face on the bed, Ricky thought it was okay to be greedy and he eagerly explored his lover's lean body. Mulder's ass was pretty and inviting, although Ricky wouldn't have liked it on a girl. It was firm beneath his hands, well muscled, and smooth. Ricky was glad that Mulder didn't run to much body hair. He was new to this and his preferences were very confused.

"Can I really come inside you?" Ricky asked.

"I want you to," Mulder said, with a quirk of a smile.

Ricky felt his cock twitch and stand even higher. Mulder asked, "Lube?"

"Drawer," Ricky said. As an afterthought, he said, "My last girlfriend was kinda dry. I think she was thinking of England."

"My thoughts of England are fond," Mulder said.

Ricky knew that his forehead was crinkling with concentration because Mulder kissed him there. A lot of Ricky's girlfriends had done the same thing. They said he looked so cute when he frowned like that.

His fingers explored inside of Mulder as Ricky wondered at how easy Mulder was with his touch. The ritual of dating was thrown aside with this man. Ricky didn't have to ply Mulder with drinks or take him out some place fancy or buy him gifts. Mulder wanted to have sex and there was no doubt about it.

Mulder moved around on the bed, finding a pillow to support his back. His cock bobbed up, hitting his stomach. His long, strong legs rose and he angled his large feet over Ricky's shoulders. "Come here," Mulder invited. "Give me it."

Oh man, that was doing Ricky in. He fumbled around, nervous about hurting Mulder. Although none of Ricky's girl friends were this adventurous, he had read porn where women did this . . . well, recently, he had 'borrowed' some gay porn that someone had left in the property room. It had been there so long that whatever case had resulted in its presence was beyond prosecuting. He had read that it hurt to do this and it had hurt a little when Mulder did him as careful as he had been.

The head of his cock seemed so much bigger than Mulder's opening that it worried Ricky. Mulder smiled at him and said, "It works. I have definitely done this before. Don't worry."

Ricky bet it was not okay to feel a sting of jealousy at those words. He didn't know the rules of this new game, but he guessed that the mixture of lust, admiration, and all around fascination he had for Mulder was moving too far too fast.

A few weeks ago, Ricky couldn't imagine having sex with a guy, but now he was feeling a hell of a lot more than he should.

"Come on, Ricky," Mulder coaxed.

Pushing slowly inside, Ricky moaned. It was too much stimulation. He was afraid he was going to come right now and ruin things. Holding still, Ricky thought about Scali yelling at him and nearly lost his erection. Well, that worked too well.

Looking down at Mulder, Ricky adored the eyes that gleamed up at him. The intelligence shown out of him and the heart of him made Ricky feel as if he was the center of the universe. Ricky knew that Mulder was someone he could really trust. Mulder stroked his cock as Ricky started to move again. He could feel Mulder pushing back at him and it was so good; it was fantastic.

Moving faster, harder, Ricky felt as if he was on fire. He could feel his sweat mingling with Mulder's; their flesh hot, plastered together. The friction and the resistance felt so good. He couldn't help moving quicker and then his entire body was pleasure. He came with a shout and then fell back.

It took Ricky a few seconds to realize Mulder hadn't come and was arranging him to penetrate him. He was so relaxed that there was no problem getting inside him. He couldn't come again, as capaciously as he had ejaculated, but he managed to get hard anyway, an arousal that Mulder later coaxed into an anticlimax of an orgasm that was still more than Ricky expected of himself.

OooOooO

Mulder slept better than he had in years although he woke before dawn. He watched Ricky deep in slumber for a while and wondered what the hell was happening to him. He had long decided that long-term relationships were not for him. If he was with a woman, some beautiful man seemed to glow enchantingly available. If he was with a man, he met a perfect woman. Analyzing himself, Mulder was reasonably sure he was simply avoiding commitment.

As Ricky murmured in his sleep, luxuriant lashes fluttering against the sharply elegant line of his cheek, Mulder thought that this lovely young man might be the ideal compromise. Ricky was a jewel in the rough. Someone who would follow his lead, whom he could educate and train. Ricky was tough and quick. Mulder wouldn't have to worry about him, but he wasn't like Phoebe Green, Mulder's last long term relationship. Phoebe always made Mulder feel as if he was a nave idiot. She led and he could either follow or lose her. When he finally stood up for himself, that was the end of that. Mulder vowed that it would be different for him and Ricky. He would look out for Ricky and respect him.

Waking Ricky with a kiss, Mulder wished he had done so earlier. They could have started the day by making love, but now it was late. Mr. Smoke wanted everyone at the clearing by dawn.

Grumbling Ricky stumbled about, starting to make coffee before Mulder reminded him that they were supposed to fast.

"Ugh," Ricky moaned. "It's as bad as being Catholic. All that not eating before Communion. Hated that."

"It could be worse," Mulder said. "You could be Islamic and fasting for a month."

"No way," Ricky said. "Hey, Mulder, find me a religion where you get to eat like a hog and fucking is the best way to pray. Maybe I'll start a new one, the church of fucking Mulder."

"Hold that thought," Mulder said. "Business first."

"That's what the Commish always says too," Ricky complained. "But he doesn't offer me the incentives that you do."

The two of them were supposed to pick Mick up from Ricky's aunt and uncle. The boy was waiting, but Dave Bascomb was there as well.

"Your parents change their mind?" Mulder asked.

"No, but I'm not going to let them screw up my chances of getting back to what I used to be," the handsome boy said. His face twitched with the effort of making words. He was even more afflicted than Mick, his mouth as jagged as a Jack O Lantern.

"This isn't going to be easy," Mulder warned, "especially not for you as I understand it was your idea to party there."

"Yeah, I know," the boy said. "But no matter what, I can't live like this. And I have learned my lesson. I thought everything was a big joke, but it's not. There's a hell of a lot out there that we don't know about or understand."

"You have learned," Mulder said, wondering if he could arrange the same lesson for Patterson. "Your parents may raise hell, but if this works, I bet they change their minds."

"I left them a note," Dave said. "I told them not to make trouble or I'd tell everyone that it was me who brought the keg and wanted to have the party at Seneca Clearing. They wouldn't like that. Bad for their reputation."

"You'll make a good businessman," Mulder said. "You know how to make a bargain they can't refuse."

OooOooO

The six kids couldn't look at each other. The distorted faces were shadowed by a cool, bright day. Mr. Smoke had lost his genial appearance. He looked remote, stern, and intense.

Sitting down on a log, Smoke stared at each kid in turn until they met his eyes briefly and then each one also turning their gaze to the ground.

"You kids are coming upon a hard time here," Smoke said. "You fast from now to tomorrow dawn. My relation is going to test you. He's going to try to make you leave this place without taking his curse from you."

A sniffle might have been from one of the girls, but it came from the direction of Billy Newton, the boy with red hair and a plethora of freckles.

"Now, what we are going to do is pray or think hard about our lives," Smoke said. "We think what would make us a better person and what we need to do better. We don't talk during this time, but it's okay to pray your own way or sing a prayer song if one comes to you."

Ricky's sniff was challenging, but Mr. Smoke ignored it. He said, "No matter who we are, we got things we need to work on. Now, if you need to go do something personal, you just go in the woods and do it. Everyone understand?"

The kids all answered yes. Ricky rolled his eyes, but nodded. Mulder would need to work on Ricky's skeptic nature. He didn't want a partner so rooted in set beliefs that he couldn't see that the world had many things that challenged those expectations.

Ricky met Mulder's eyes and blushed. He nodded in silent acknowledgment of the message. When he raised his eyes again; he seemed totally serious and a little worried. Mulder liked that. He liked that Ricky cared so much about what he thought.

OooOooO

Ricky's stomach rumbled again. He looked at Mulder apologetically. Mulder squeezed his hand out of sight of the kids. Most of the teenagers were lying down, too hungry to be scared by this point. It was getting colder as well. Mulder hoped it wasn't going to be like the night that he and Ricky were here. The kids weren't in the best of shape from the start. Most of them had reacted to their mutilation with depression. Their parents had described them as sleeping for hours out of each day and hardly eating. Now a night of exposure and no food was going to cause increased weakness.

The moon was even more coldly bright than the sun. The beginnings of frost glittered on the straw colored grass. The teenagers shivered as they waited.

Mr. Smoke prayed. His voice rose and fell hypnotically in his Native language. Mulder was thinking about the X-Files. He wanted them open for two purposes, one to work at something he hoped would stop the nightmares that haunted him as a profiler and two, to perhaps resolve in his own heart what had happened to his sister, Samantha.

Lost in his own head, Mulder barely noticed the mist creeping up, seemingly from the ground. There was a pounding in his head, like a drum beating distantly.

A gasp brought him back to the present, from his future dreams and his past nightmares.

The eyes of the mask glowed red. Mulder glanced about for a source of light. Believer as he was, he looked carefully to see if Mr. Smoke had done something to cause the eerie light behind the mask.

Mulder's investigation was cut short when the distorted mouth of the mask spoke.

"You see what you don't want to see. This is what's coming to you. Maybe better to end it now," the mask said.

Mulder saw himself in a stone chair, his face distorted with metal hooks. He was screaming, his naked body writhing, helpless in his bonds. A monster loomed over him. He felt the hopelessness that hurt even more than the pain. Mulder knew that the road to this fate was the road to the X-Files. He thought there were worse things than his nightmares, but despite this horror, how could he abandon his quest? To give it up was to be lost, utterly lost.

Ricky was screaming, holding first his arm and then his head, weeping with pain. Mulder fought free of his own agony to grab Ricky's hand again and hang on tight. He could not speak, but he sent the message as best as he could. He would be there for Ricky. He loved him.

Ricky stretched his hand out as well, anchoring Mick. Mick reached out for Dave and one by one, each of the teenagers linked to the others until Billy Newton grasped Mr. Smoke's hand. The old man took Mulder's hand in his. His grip was strong despite the bony, gnarled feel of the aged hand.

"My uncle, you better give up. We're strong here. We're not going to leave until you fix this thing you have done. You want me to pass on the burden of you to a young one; you got to let these kids go. You taught them. Now you got to let them go out and live with your teaching. They all got respect now, Uncle, let them go," Mr. Smoke said.

Lightening flashed from nowhere. It struck the tree and the mask caught on fire.

Words that must have been Seneca screamed from the tree, but the fire was relentless. A gentle rain came next, putting out the flames before the fire could spread to other trees.

Mulder stood, pulling Ricky to his feet with him. He moved toward the tree, holding Ricky's hand and feeling the tremble, the urge to pull back. Ricky followed him. Ricky beat back his fear to stay with Mulder.

The mask was gone. The tree no longer lived. There was nothing but a stump, mostly dark char with only a few embers still burning.

When Mulder looked around, the kids were weeping, but the only thing distorting their faces were tears. The curse was gone and they did not wear the faces of the sacred masks.

Mr. Smoke was crying as well. He said, "I warned you, Uncle, I warned you. You carved Broken Nose and you forgot how that mask came to be. You forgot that Broken Nose fought with Swenio, the Great Mystery and lost. Now you are lost."

But a silver image came out of the darkness. The man was young, beautiful, his hair dressed in traditional Seneca style, his flashing eyes no longer fierce and maddened. He held out his hands in benediction and then a path opened into the sky. He walked upward with a glad step and disappeared into the heavens.

Nothing was left but the three adults, the six teenagers.

"Look!" Ricky said, pointing.

There was a mask lying in the center of the burned out stump. It looked very old, but the paint was bright on it, the clumps of tangled hair firmly attached.

Mr. Smoke said, "His mask, he completed his mask after all this time."

The old man laughed and cried at the same time, before raising his strong voice in his own language.

Gripping Ricky's hand again, Mulder said, "We better take the kids home. Their parents will be glad to see them like this."

"Mulder . . . " Ricky said, awed. "Mulder, did that really happen? Mulder, is that what we are going to do? We're going to see things like what just happened?"

Mulder was glad to hear the joy in his lover's voice. Ricky understood. Ricky believed.

OooOooO

Mulder had only been back for one day. Patterson had signed his transfer request. Tomorrow Mulder would start his new duties under AD Walter S. Skinner, a supervisor reputed to be stern, but fair.

Having run out of ideas in his head as to who could help Ricky get into the academy and then have him assigned to Mulder's one man X-File division, Mulder decided to do something he seldom had cause to do. He called his mother. He wasn't sure how she made all her connections, but she seemed to know whom to call when Mulder was desperate. The last time she helped was when Mulder was turned down for the FBI because of his color blindness. One day he was trying to think how else he could investigate his sister's disappearance and the next, he was looking at an appointment letter that did not explain why an exception was being made.

Mother said, "Dear, it's not like you to make such an effort for a nobody. Do you want to explain? It isn't that . . . that stuff you were into in England?"

Phoebe had turned even nastier when Mulder had made it clear that he was not going to come crawling back. She had dumped him, but as far as she was concerned, he was not supposed to accept that without begging and pleading. Once she was certain, she had written a letter to his mother, telling her about Mulder's affair with a younger classmate, a male classmate.

It had taken more diplomacy than Mulder had thought himself capable of possessing to keep Mom from cutting off his tuition. Diplomacy failing, Mulder threatened to come out as a flaming queen if she didn't relent. That had worked, further eroding Mulder's belief in the power of diplomacy.

"Mom, he's just a kid, who needs a break," Mulder said.

"You're sure about that?" Mother asked.

"I don't ask you for favors often," Mulder said. "This kid would be a major support for me. I need someone who believes."

"That nonsense," Mother said.

"Mother," Mulder pleaded.

"Oh, all right, there is someone I can contact," Mother replied, "but if I find out . . . "

"You won't find out anything," Mulder promised, letting her believe whatever she chose about what he was saying.

"You should come home for a while," Mother said. "You never go on vacation. There are some lovely girls I would like you to meet. They sail."

"I'll try," Mulder said, "but I just took a week off. It will have to wait a few months."

A sigh meant his mother was giving up. She said, "I'll call my friend today. He's influential."

Mother was as secretive as Mulder was. He suspected that her friend was someone with whom her connection was intimate, but she was of a generation that did not share that kind of information even with adult children. In any event, Mulder expected that Ricky would be accepted at the academy.

Ricky's application was a work of art and his Commissioner had written him a glowing reference. Mulder counted off the days that Ricky would spend in the academy eagerly. He expected it would take little pull to have Ricky assigned to him. After all, Ricky wasn't a sterling recruit with his undergraduate degree and his mediocre police career. Mulder simply had to talk Walter Skinner into allowing him a partner of his choice. That would be interesting.

Mulder whistled as he laid out the suit he planned to wear to meet with Skinner. After dinner, he planned to go to bed early with his phone. He looked forward to a little phone sex with Ricky and then he would sleep. Mulder hadn't had a nightmare since the events in Seneca Clearing. He hoped they were gone permanently, a final act of healing by that unknown young healer who had been freed from his own mask.

It had been a long time since Mulder looked forward to tomorrow as much as he did today. He grinned. His life was looking up.

OooOooO

The phone rang as Mulder unpacked his meager belongings into his new desk. It had taken two weeks for supply to fill his order for any office furniture, even a light bulb. He had to bring one from home and replace the burned out light himself.

Mulder's lips twitched as he reached for the phone. It was either AD Skinner calling to yell at him about his first report or a misguided toner salesperson. Other than that, he expected no one knew or cared about the existence of his X-Files.

The voice, which said, "Agent Mulder?" should have been jolly and carefree.

Commissioner Scali sounding very stressed and embarrassed. He asked, "Agent Mulder, I was wondering . . . "

"Yeah?" Mulder urged, holding the phone cradled between his neck and shoulder as he decided where his "I want to believe" poster should go.

"Is Ricky Caruso with you?" Scali asked.

"No," Mulder replied. "I expected him to call about the academy."

"Yeah, well, he didn't show for work at all last week. His brother checked out his apartment and Ricky wasn't there. His belongings were gone. His landlady said that an older man brought by a note terminating his rental contract," Scali said.

There was an uncomfortable silence then Scali said, "I thought perhaps he had decided to go with you and was embarrassed to tell his family."

"I wish," Mulder said. "No, Ricky isn't with me. I think you better tell his family to file a missing person report. Listen, I have a few things to do here and then I'll take some time off and help investigate."

OooOooO

Mulder found nothing more than what Scali already reported. No trace of Ricky Caruso, no trace at all.

The landlady reported that the man who had brought by the paperwork had been in his fifties or older, a heavy smoker, with light, blue eyes. She had wondered who he was, but she recognized Ricky's signature and there had been no problem with the apartment.

Ricky was missing. And missing he remained.

Over the years, Mulder remembered to search at intervals, but no trace was ever found.

It seemed that Mulder's curse had struck again. Anything he loved would be taken. Anything he loved would return only in twisted images . . . dark ghosts of once bright loves.

The End
 

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